Library Podcasts

Ep. #47, The Customer Story with Mark Lorion of Tempo

Guests: Mark Lorion

In episode 47 of EnterpriseReady, Grant speaks with Mark Lorion of Tempo. They discuss Mark's programming background and early enterprise software roles, the importance of seeking customer data at the source, and deep insights on enterprise marketing.


About the Guests

Mark Lorion is an entrepreneurial and analytical software executive currently serving as CEO of Tempo Software, Board Director of Mass Technology Leadership Council, and Co-Founder of Boston TechJam.

Show Notes

Transcript

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Grant Miller: All right, Mark. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mark Lorion: Happy to be here, Grant. Thanks for the invite.

Grant: Well, let's jump right in. Let's talk a little bit about how you got into enterprise software.

Mark: I have always enjoyed technology. Even when I was a kid I was tinkering with computers. My dad worked for IBM for his entire career so there was always mainframes and early PC computers laying around the house and I'd be playing around with those.

I picked up programming as a kid and had always liked being hands on with software.

Started my career doing systems integration work and programming and worked for a company that was then called Anderson Consulting, now it's known as Accenture, and I really liked that.

Started doing systems work and technology work there, but the parts of that job that I enjoyed most was when I got a chance to meet with clients and understand their needs and translating needs into business requirements, translating business requirements into technical requirements.

That was the most enjoyable part so I left Accenture and went to grad school, got an MBA in Entrepreneurship and landed in a software company and haven't looked back yet.

I've enjoyed lots of different companies over the years and different roles, but that's how I started and it's set me on this path to where I am now.

Grant: Did you go straight into enterprise software out of grad school, or where did you go?

Mark: Yeah. Started with an internship in product management, I think that's a pretty natural role for a lot of people making the transition from a technical career to one more pint towards the business side.

I worked in an enterprise software company at that point in product management as a product manager, and I have only ever worked at enterprise software companies. A variety of products, a number of different industries, different roles, but always the common factor has been enterprise software.

Grant: When you think about these companies you're at, maybe the first one was Ordertrust or in iConverse, is there a theme around what these products were doing or how you thought about your contributions to these different companies?

Mark: Honestly, in the early days and I suppose even still, the common thread were contacts.

A mentor of mine brought me from one company to the next, so I sort of followed that individual.

He himself was and is an enterprise software person, so I think that was some of the early glue that kept me connected with a group of people and moving from one organization to the next. And the companies, again, the products had changed.

I began focusing more on analytics and security and devops, which really I've been in that lane for a number of years now and I think that didn't emerge until a little bit later.

Earlier on it was some investors, advisors and then some executives that I stayed with, that was the common thread in those early days.

Grant: I guess this is back in the early 2000s when you were first joining these companies. What was it like at that point?

Because now if you think about the funny environment, you think about how many companies we have in the enterprise software ecosystem, the funny thing I think about is a lot of these companies are echoed in the next generation of companies.

So sometimes you'll see some technologies, you're like, "Oh yeah, I worked in that problem 20 years ago but now that's a multibillion dollar company and at that point it was a small exit or something." So do you see similar patterns, or?

Mark: I really do. It's crazy that you say that because Ordertrust, a company that's long gone, and I had came out of grad school right before the Dotcom Bubble and bust, ultimately.

So there was a lot of craziness in those early days, but my first company coming out of grad school was a marketplace and it had all the promises to be a marketplace and helping connect organizations with products and services, and that obviously didn't play out.

But now if you look around, there's so many marketplaces that are really very significant, and I happen to be operating in one right now.

My current product and portfolio is part of the Atlassian marketplace.

So early vision back then and then they really just stumbled for a long time and then now emerge and you see they're much more mainstream over the last, I guess, decade now.

Grant: Yeah, it's interesting. So that early company, did it see any success or did it just fail out the gate pretty quickly?

Mark: Its value proposition was tied to the success of lots of Dotcom websites, so the fundamental business itself was just going to get cleaned out as the whole Dotcom industry imploded.

So really, there was not a high chance of success in those early days, but as I think back and your question has really got me thinking now, my first couple of roles in enterprise software, one was in marketplace space, one was around enterprise mobility and one was around devops.

Those three things have really been the common element from company to company to company for me, so I suppose now as I look back there's a bit more of a pattern.

Not that I was following one per se, then, but it certainly is the case now as it's played out.

I think that I'm quite comfortable in the space now, it leads to a familiarity with the customer, with partners, with service providers around that, and that's what ends up, I think, over time giving you a lot more leverage and giving you more productivity because you know the kinds of problems the customers face. You're not starting from square zero.

Grant: Yeah. So that sort of familiarity with the problem.

Interestingly, I find that sometimes I listen to a lot of different books about software companies and I find that the lessons from one business to another often apply, right?

And so you're like, "What I learned there I can take forward in this new opportunity."

Especially as new platforms and there's constant shifts in technologies.

There's almost a constant reimagination of these problems from set to another, but you keep learning along the way and then apply those principles forward.

Mark: Yeah. I'm sure a lot of people have the same observation, but when I was younger I feel like I was happy with movement and progress.

I just wanted to be shipping, I wanted to get something completed, whether it was a plan, a PowerPoint, a spreadsheet.

I think as I got more mature I realized that there is real value into slowing down also.

I didn't make up this phrase but I heard it and I love it, and I always use it, but the phrase is NIHITO, Nothing Interesting Happens In The Office. And if you've got one of these sort of a product management, a marketing, certainly sales, presales applications specialists, pretty much any role benefits from listening outside the building. We don't buy our own software. I love it, I use it, but I don't buy it, so I don't go through the same consideration process that an enterprise customer does.

If you can get yourself out of the building, whether that's literally or figuratively or remotely, listen to people who use your software, who influence your software, who are going to maybe resell your software.

They are the ones ultimately that get to vote on how valuable your software is or your solution or whatever, right?

And if you can earn the right to do business with somebody, that is a huge mark that you have good product market fit and the whole product is in the right place, and I didn't get that as a young person.

It was about, "Just ship it, just get it out the door. Let me move and celebrate shipping something without shipping the right thing."

Grant: What made it click for you that that was an important thing to do?

Mark: One of my mentors, a guy that I have a huge amount of respect for, his name is Christopher Allburgh, I worked for him for a number of years.

He's a successful founder, a multiple time founder. I remember going in and interviewing for this position, I was going to startup a product marketing function for a software company named Spotfire.

He is a brilliant individual, if he ever listens to this he's going to giggle because I don't think he realizes what an influence he's had on my career.

But I walked into his office as a young recruit, early within the first week or two and he was wondering how things were going and he wondered if I had any ideas or recommendations.

And I did, and I made it, and he said, "Oh. Well, that's interesting. What customer did you hear that from?"

And I said, "I didn't, I did some research, I was reading some Gartner Reports, and I was looking at some industry trends that I found online."

And he's like, "Get the hell out of here. Don't ever come in here, do not ever come into my office again unless you can cite who you spoke with about some idea."

And that was close around that period of time that I had picked up this phrase NIHITO, but that was really what.

I was a little afraid of this guy also because he was a very skilled kick boxer and he had a big punching bag in his office and nothing on his desk except his computer. Not even a power cable, right?

And he said, "Get out of here. Get on the road. We have a travel budget, get on a plane, go talk to customers and then come back and then I'll believe what your recommendations are."

And it was such a powerful lesson, and I try to pass that on to people who work for me right now, that nothing interesting happens here.

We don't buy our own software, right? And if we don't understand who's using it, what problems we're trying to solve, we're never going to design good functionality, we're never going to have a good messaging campaign, our website will never be as good as it should be, our collateral will never be appropriate, our solutions won't ever be as good as they can be. Go talk to people.

Grant: When you go talk to them, number one, how do you set that meeting up? What do you say?

Are you looking for existing customers, prospects? Who are you aiming for?

Mark: All that and more, so people who currently use our product, people who have used it but no longer use it, people who have churned out, prospects who haven't converted yet, and importantly, partners who may be implementing the software or helping to configure it on behalf of us for the partner's take.

All the data points you can get. I think in enterprise software it's different, you often will have an enterprise selling team or a BDR team that may be banging the phones and setting up meetings for the outside team.

You can attach to any of those, if they understand what you're trying to do they will often invite you into a meeting, listen to a call that a BDR is having.

There's technology if you're in the office, you can patch into somebody's call. BDRs now often will just invite you to a Zoom meeting and you can sit there and listen to the discussion that's happening.

If you're an enterprise customer, you probably have an account manager or some team and you can be brought in and have live discussions setup.

I'm in a higher volume environment right now, we're more of a PLG or Product Led Growth company where we've got a much higher volume of trials that are happening.

People are experiencing the product themselves with their own hands, often converting, buying and using the product without ever talking to one of our team members.

In cases like that, it can be a little bit more difficult but you can use the product to do some listening, looking at in product metrics to see where people are getting stuck, where they're using the product.

You've got to seek out this customer data in any way, shape or form to gain those insights.

If we ever sit in our office and try to design things based on what we think, we're not doing as well as we can.

Grant: Interesting. First, that first realization when you're the CEO or founder suggested that you get out of the office with your idea, did you take that advice?

Did you get out there? And did that idea itself stand up to customer feedback or did it require some sort of spinning and adjusting?

Mark: A big adjustment, but what I did was I ended up cutting a deal with him and the person who ran marketing at the time.

I said, "You know what? I'm going to become an application specialist, the equivalent of a presales person for that company."

I did product training, and ended up basically getting on the road. I probably did 150,000 miles that year, flew all over the world, I met with our customers, with our prospects and I earned the right to be the application specialist.

Sometimes I was operating as the presales person with the sales rep when there was no other person.

I had a bit of a technical background so I was comfortable in the product itself and I earned the right to travel as an application specialist, so I was in all of those meetings and I didn't have to ask for them.

Grant: But that was software, this was when you were the Director of Product Marketing, or was that the title that you ended up with at the end?

Mark: At the time I was an Analytics Application Specialist.

So we gave me that title and it was a really interesting experience because we were taking a product that was used for scientific data visualization needs.

It was used by biologists and people in pharmaceutical and biotech, and we were creating a version of the product that was going to be used by business users to visualize data.

It's become a bit more mainstream, at the time it was not that popular so we had to get close to prospects and people who were not currently using the product.

So we were looking at not pivoting the company, but introducing a new version of the product and a new product line.

So really I think it lent itself very well to getting out in the field and just pitching, listening, getting same datasets from customers and working with them.

But it gave me the level of insight into customers that honestly I have never had since. It was amazing.

What I have done since is try to goal my teams or people that work for me in various teams to get out there and do their version of NIHITO, Nothing Interesting Happens In The Office.

Grant: When you say goal there, are you giving them tracking?

Are you asking them like, "Hey, here's the goal, here's the metric. Meet with 10 customers this quarter"?

Mark: Yes. Yeah, for years. I think the problem, I think product management people naturally do this, they could probably generally do more but in an organization they're probably among the better individuals who do this.

I think marketing teams, really there's a big gap, I think marketing teams have the risk of just writing things that sound good that may not really resonate with the prospect.

Particularly in enterprise environments. So for years I have had my marketing teams have MBOs that every person on the team needs to attend a certain number of BDR sales discussions at a minimum.

They got to sit down and listen, how do people describe the problem?

What words do they search for when they find you? If they were looking for a competitive product, what were they looking for?

How would they describe it? Because it doesn't matter how we describe the problem, it matters how the prospect describes the problem because we're not going to be there and we can't convince them to go to a particular landing page.

We want to hear the language that they use, what do they think about when they get out of bed in the morning? I want to be attached to that.

Grant: Interesting, yeah. And so what roles do you think?

It sounds like everyone in your marketing organization, your product organizations, obviously your customer focused folks are doing this like this is their job.

Do you have engineers spend time with customers in the same sense, or?

Mark: Yes. Not to the same extent that I do some of the more go to market functions.

Really I think the move to Agile and that development and product engineering framework has been really good because it forces product people and the folks typically writing the stories to get out there and really describe the problem through the customer's lens.

I think that alone has made engineers a lot more empathetic with the problems their software is trying to solve.

So hopefully our product people are really good about writing those user centric stories and when I think back to the days where I was coding, I was reading off of somebody's PRD what the software needed to do.

I never talked to a user, I didn't even really talk to the product people.

You got the sheet and had to code the interface. It's different now, I think we're sensitizing the technical side of our house to be very customer centric.

Grant: Yeah. So that's come closer, but really making folks get out and saying this is a core part of how we do business as we talk to customers and we engage and we talk to prospects. And so yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Mark: Yeah.

I think I'm lucky to be the CEO of a very remarkable company with some incredible people and 20,000 really, I'm going to say, impressive customers.

I only know a few of the customers, but I love them.

But it's a much higher volume environment and I think the risk that we face in an organization like this and others, there are other businesses operating with this level of volume, I think the risk is you can get too attached to the screens and the dials.

So you've got such a high volume, you can't afford to talk to all of them but that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to some of them and you've got to find a way to plug in and actually get on the phone.

When I started, I talked to our sales team and our sales team here is really responding to inbound questions that people have when they use the product.

They're not doing cold calling or outbound prospecting in the more traditional enterprise sense.

But I talked to the team leads and I said, "Listen, I want to get plugged into these calls."

And the really calls were really quite insightful because you could hear the language that they were using and the problems that they were trying to solve.

It's eye opening because those are the people that have to go to their bosses to argue for budget to buy your software, and we need to make their life easier both in functionality and make the whole purchase process that much more seamless for them.

Grant: Yeah. That's so true, the product often forgets that, make the purchase process easier for them, right? How do you help them?

How do you enable and arm your champions with the tools they need to actually take this up the chain and defend it like they're going to drive value from it and help them do well?

Mark: Yeah. The whole world, well, much of the world has shifted over to subscription licenses so not only do you need to win the customer over at the beginning but you're constantly in a sales cycle.

I think while that puts a certain pressure on the organization, you can't set it and forget it.

You have to make sure that you're continuing to deliver value, the whole experience around the product and by that I mean the whole product, not just the functionality but the experience around that, the way they get support, what they're paying for it, how they're paying for it.

All of that stuff has to work or they're going to churn and they'll go to somebody else.

One of the easiest ways to grow is to not churn, right? Everybody who churns out is a customer I've got to sell just to stay even, so we really have to keep our teams all focused on that customer and hopefully delivering remarkable value and continually earning the right to their business.

Grant: You mentioned that the company you're with today, a little bit more product led growth, higher velocity, more customers generally.

But I know you spent time at companies like Tibco, which are probably a little bit more like traditional top down enterprise software companies. Is that right?

Mark: Yes.

Grant: And so when you compare and contrast those, particularly like you said, maybe it's easier for enterprise software companies compared to the higher volume product led growth companies compared to, I guess, higher volume product led growth companies.

Is that because you think there's just more touchpoints with the customer and there's someone that really owns the relationship on the customer side?

Mark: So yes, I do think that's the case. I got to Tibco because Tibco acquired Spotfire, so we came in as a division.

Spotfire and also Tibco were more classic enterprise selling environments where you had a sales leader, a presales person, downstream there was a services person that was going to do the implementation.

I think in those environments, and they're obviously lower volume, the average contract values are a lot higher, the volume's lower but you tend to get pretty close to the customer because you're spending time selling and getting to know their needs.

I think in those environments you tend to pick up more knowledge about the account.

However, a lot of that power ends up residing in the hands of the sales professional.

I think when I look back at my past, I don't think I did a great job of plugging into that stream.

I wish I did more, because I look at all the information the sales people have about the customer, their needs, these are people then and I'm sure many are still doing this that are on airplanes and they're taking people out to dinner, you're really getting a better sense for what keeps that prospect and the company up at night.

But a lot of that intelligence ends up staying with the sales person or the presales person.

I think companies that can figure out how to tap into that better have a lot to gain because that information should flow back into the marketing organization for improved messaging.

It should flow into product and engineering for better product design and find a way to get more inserted into that area of the business.

Grant: I think one of the challenges, and this is maybe a little bit like as a product manager in a previous life, my perception was always that the sellers feedback on what a customer needed or the problem they were experiencing. It always felt a little bit too colored by what was going to help that seller try to close a bigger deal right now.

Mark: That deal right now. Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Grant: Because you're right, they think they are the best source of direct customer engagement, but it always just colored it in a way where I was like, "It's probably not exactly what they needed and there's probably other contexts that I'm just not getting."

And so this is why I think a lot of product managers would just be like, "Put me on a call with them, let me ask them additional questions."

Because you end up being like, "Okay, I understand what you're telling me, but let me hear it directly from the customer."

I think ultimately you do get different insights and I guess I wonder if there are ways to structure or incentivize to make sure that sellers are a little bit more...

Look, in our current team this isn't a huge problem for us. But I think back into the companies I've been at and it was a little bit more of an issue.

I think for startups, it's like people are a bit more like, "Let's build the company together," than they are like, "Let me close this big deal right now."

Mark: Yeah, I agree with that.

Although, I imagine you have that clarity looking back.

When you're in the situation you may not realize, do I have great clarity on requirements or don't I?

You don't know, and if you think about strategy it's about where should we be going with something?

And if you only respond to every individual requirement that comes from a particular customer, you're going to end up with this wacky looking product or company. You've got to stitch these observations together.

It's like that telephone game that kids play, how quickly the message gets distorted. So you've got to have your people designing the product in close proximity to people who are using it and/or buying it.

And I hadn't thought about this for a while, but you made me think about that tour of duty that I took for a year as an application specialist.

That was one of the most rewarding experiences and has fundamentally changed the way that I lead because of that 12 month experience and realizing the kind of clarity and insight you pick up when you just simply can have those sorts of discussions.

That doesn't scale, you can't have everybody in your company doing that so you've got to find ways of tapping into enough of that data so each decision is a little bit more relevant to the customer.

Hopefully you get every team, every function thinking a little bit more customer-centric and you start correcting and improving the way your company is evolving because of it.

But you have to understand the gap to begin with.

Grant: Yeah. I try to do that sometimes by just telling stories about the customer, right?

Trying to relay information by using a customer as the example, and that's the sort of vessel by which you deliver some information, it's the customer story.

Mark: Yeah. At Tempo Software, I hold all hands meetings with the whole company every two weeks.

As I've mentioned, I do these walkabouts with our customers.

About a month ago I was on the phone call, I had a phone call with one of our customers and I thought he did such a nice job articulating the reason that he uses us and he wasn't talking about the speeds and feeds in our features.

But he was talking about what he was doing to respond to the requirements that were coming to him from his company.

A light bulb went off, I said, "Can you join our alliance meeting?" And he came in and we had him mid track in the agenda, which was a mistake by the way.

Should've led off with him because he started talking, and I wasn't paying a lot of attention, the team had given him like a 10 minute window.

He started going on, there were a million questions coming from our team on the chat bot.

I sent the person running the call a message and I said, "Kill the rest of the agenda, this is going to go until we're done with the call."

Grant: Love that.

Mark: And it should've been the entire call, but we'll know for next time and we're going to make this part of a normal thing that we do in the company.

I think that's a way to scale, right? It's a way to have not just one discussion but to have everybody listen to what this individual was saying and a little trick or a kind of framework, hopefully, that we'll stay true to as we move forward and bring that level of intelligence to my entire global team.

Grant: Yeah. I love that idea. Just going back, one thing I was realizing, your career has had this interesting transition from product and technology into marketing and then into executive.

But I remember there's a blog post that Ben Horowitz wrote about Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager, and he starts off by saying something like, "Product is not just a responsibility of marketing."

And at the time it felt like most product organizations were actually part of a marketing organization, right?

Is that actually the structure that... Now I think about product as more closely and more closer to engineering in most enterprise software orgs.

But for you, was your start as a product person in a marketing org?

Mark: I think way back it was part of the marketing organization.

As long as I've been responsible or had responsibility for product, which goes back a number of companies at this point, I've always had the function report to make directly.

To me, marketing is a distinct function from product, which is a distinct product from engineering.

I think those teams should have their own opinions and belief.

There's some level of tension, healthy tension, that I think is very logical and good because that way you know you're pushing the limits for a particular decision.

I know some teams organize differently, for me this works, and I really enjoy having deep exposure to both.

But I've been blessed to work with some really remarkable product and engineering leaders that have gotten really very, I think, healthy collaborative relationships in place.

Grant: Great, yeah. Your career then moved from running marketing to then it looks like you had some COO roles, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Grant: How do you think about the role of the COO at an enterprise software company versus now where you're a CEO?

Mark: This is my first CEO position, and while I think a lot of my experience has prepared me for the role, nothing quite prepares you for it until you've taken the post.

And I've had a great experience, and again I'm blessed to be surrounded by an amazing team and great investors.

But I think for me the Chief Operating Officer positions were really important because previous I was responsible for a function so I had to optimize marketing, I had to optimize product management, I had to optimize corporate development.

COO means different things to different companies. In my previous companies I had responsibility for a number of significant functions.

It really forces you to think about how to operate at scale because you can't touch every customer, you can't touch every decision.

You need to provide a vision for where we're going and hire, develop and retain the best possible people and get the heck out of their way.

Give people an understanding of what we're trying to achieve, so what does success look like?

And then give them the space to figure out how to get there.

Hopefully in my past I've recognized enough hiccups along the way, I can spot some red flags and help people avoid some avoidable mistakes and provide an environment where they can excel.

I think when you're running and individual function you have that.

When you're responsible for multiple functions at the same time, you just can't touch.

It really does force you to disconnect from all of the decisions and pick and choose the most important, most impactful, and then give your leaders space to have that experience with their own teams.

Grant: Interesting. Day to day, as a COO, what were you doing that's different than what you're doing as a CEO?

Mark: So my two COO positions I had responsibility for, essentially marketing, product management, engineering and corporate development.

At the time they were pretty meaty and significant functions, so I think that for me was good training and muscle building that got me ready, that helped get me ready for the CEO position.

But I didn't have responsibility for all of the company's financials or our fundraising or investor relationships or HR and sales.

When you add that on top of what I was doing before, you end up with the full scope of a CEO, but it's a lot.

I think to understand ultimately, in an enterprise software organization the more you understand about the customer, what their requirements are and how we build and deliver and service products--You have to know that.

Because at the end of the day, people, they're only going to buy your software if it solves a valuable problem and it's the best at doing that, so the more you understand about that part of the lifecycle I think the better leader you will be.

If you don't understand that, I think it's hard for you to become a CEO of such an organization because it's so critical to the nature of the company, is shipping that product that's going to matter.

Grant: Interesting. So I want to shift a little bit into Tempo, and obviously you just joined about nine months ago as the CEO.

The company's been around for a while. Maybe just give us some history and context on Tempo and then we can dive into some of the more interesting things around marketplaces that you were alluding to earlier?

Mark: Sure. Yeah, happy to. Tempo, it's such a great company, I'm so blessed to be here.

Starting at a high level and then I walk back just to give you some framework for the company's evolution.

Tempo provides a suite of products in the Atlassian marketplace.

The products help enterprise and SMB customers, for that matter, but we do target the enterprise.

It helps the enterprise plan, budget and track time team capacity.

So you think about how many people do we have on a particular software development project?

How much time do they have? How much time are we allocating to projects?

And then how much time have they actually used against those timelines? So tracking the actuals versus planned time.

It ends up becoming a valuable part of helping product management and software development teams better allocate their people to make sure that they've got people working on the highest value sorts of projects.

Ultimately, it helps product leaders have a better sense for the cost of building and maintaining products, not just at a product level but you can even come down and say with quite high levels of granularity how much a particular feature costs in a product.

So from a portfolio management perspective, we help product leaders or general managers really understand the financials around their product and do a better job of developing and delivering those.

Grant: So when did the company get started? How did it get started? Did it evolve a bit? What's the backstory and context on it?

Mark: Really interesting backstory there. It was founded in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was part of a company called Orego Software, Orego is a large, Icelandic company and some folks there developed a product for their own use.

They developed a time tracking product. At the time the company was doing a number of software development projects and they wanted a way to better track and allocate their time so that they could be more accurate billing back their projects to the client.

They developed a product, it worked pretty well, somebody decided to put it on the Atlassian marketplace because perhaps other people who were using Jira would have this problem.

Grant: This is what, how long ago? When did that all happen?

Mark: The company put the first application in the Atlassian marketplace in 2009, so early on.

Atlassian launched the marketplace, this enterprising team built a product, they were using it for their own needs so it was meeting their needs, and they said, "There's probably other teams and companies out there that would benefit from this."

And they put it on the marketplace, and then they started charging for it, and lo and behold, people started using it.

So from day one it had been a PLG company, right? It was in the marketplace, people were trying it, they were downloading it, they were using it, and in that environment you have to earn the customer because they will churn in a heartbeat.

I don't have an enterprise seller that's going to help talk them off the ledge or negotiate a contract, it's all click through.

It's a high volume environment, and I think that feedback helped the team to evolve their products and to evolve with what they were hearing from their customers.

They started introducing some additional products as part of that.

Grant: So was it part of that initial company that they worked at? Or did they start a separate company to do this?

Mark: No, it was part of Orego, so it was operating like a little project group inside Orego and someone at Orego said, "This might actually be a standalone company if it had a higher level of focus around the company. We are Orego, we have a different mission, but maybe we should spin this out."

And Orego looked for and found a financial partner that helped to orchestrate a carve out of the business, and that is my current investor, Diversus Capital, a private equity group.

Really a growth equity minded set of investors that helped to orchestrate the carve out from Orego, and Orego and Diversus remain the primary owners of the business.

So Orego still has sizable ownership in the company, they've got seats on the board, I meet with them all the time, but Tempo operates as a standalone entity, as a standalone software business.

Grant: And when did the carve out happen?

Mark: 2018.

Grant: Okay. So they started in 2009, and 2009 is before Atlassian had even raised that first outside funding from Accel.

That happened 2010, right? So this is very early, really I would say before... People were all using Jira at that time, it was very popular, but it wasn't the behemoth that it is today, right?

Mark: Yes.

Grant: I think maybe they probably valued the company at a couple, maybe 200 million bucks maximum probably, right?

Mark: Right. If we knew then what we know now.

Grant: Yeah, exactly. This is also, I'd say probably at that time, most of Jira's software was Jira servers, it was hosted on prem and I think the marketplace was basically these Java plugins that you would put into your instance of Jira, more or less. Right?

Mark: Yeah. But the interesting thing, and I can imagine what they were thinking when they launched the marketplace, but it's an important part of Atlassian.

They count on their marketplace partners, people like Tempo, to develop capabilities, plugins, extensions that are going to deliver, "A whole product for their enterprise customers."

And there's so many enterprises on the face of the Earth, not all of them have exactly the same requirements around this product space, that companies like Tempo get formed and get plugged into a customer's deployment so that that customer has just what they need.

I mean, the marketplace has thousands of companies and products.

Some of these, "Products," that you get in the marketplace may be built and supported by three or four engineers in their part time.

Now, we're a whole standalone company, we're one of the largest vendors in Atlassian marketplace.

But I have to hand it to them, there's such a long tail of products in the marketplace.

Really, you'd be hard pressed to think of some requirement that can't be served between Jira and one or more of the plugins or products available there.

It's really this healthy coexistence that exists at this point.

Grant: Yeah. One, the thing that I know about marketplaces is basically the customers that consume--

If you're Atlassian and any Jira customer that has probably three or more marketplace apps installed into their instance, probably the lifetime value is like four times higher or something because they've customized it, they've made the connections.

So it really becomes a key part of driving customer retention and probably some amount of expansion as well.

Mark: Oh yes. I have to hand it to Atlassian, they treat their partners really well.

I think it's a healthy coexistence because we need each other. We help to, as you're suggesting, complete the Jira offering.

In our case Jira, but there's other Atlassian products for the marketplace too that meets the customer's needs.

And if not for the marketplace partners, you think about all of that functionality that Atlassian would have to develop on their own in order to meet the permutation of requirements.

So what may seem like an individual set of two or three features to Atlassian can be large enough to sustain a couple of small companies.

Grant: Yeah, and someone to focus on and really go deep with it and really make it work.

So what have you found has really worked in terms of making sure that your marketplace...

Because one thing about marketplaces, and Tempo probably has some advantage having been there for a long time, so being an early mover in a marketplace can often be helpful.

What else has really been beneficial or has really worked for marketplace exposure or making sure that you're successful if this is your primary channel?

Mark: Yes, because we have a lot riding on that channel and so we pay a lot of attention to it, for sure.

Yes, Tempo did and remains to have an early mover advantage in the space.

We're also, I think, significantly larger than the typical marketplace partner so we have a full blown and high quality product management team, engineering team that are trying to listen to the signals in the product to evolve the products to be, not only the largest in our space, but also the best.

So we have, at this point, more than one in four of the Fortune 500 customers use Tempo software. We've got more than 20,000 customers that have used us.

We have a lot of implementations, a lot of reviews. So if you're looking for a product in our space, we would be the obvious front runner and that's something that we earn, I believe, every single day by listening to our customers, addressing complaints or recommendations in the product. If somebody writes a bad review we try to understand what caused it and address the source of the issue so we don't have it again, and really protect that impression that people in the marketplace have because that is the way they experience our software. That is the selling process.

It's the same way that you at your company are probably trying to hire the best and brightest sales executives and run the best and most successful marketing campaigns.

For us, that selling and marketing function is largely concentrated in the marketplace so being careful and mindful about how our landing pages are written, maniacally focusing on the language and making sure that we're using the language that our prospects use on the landing pages.

Addressing complains that people may raise. Ensuring that when they come in and trial, we've got the highest likelihood of converting them.

When they convert, making sure we understand the reasons why people churn and try to remove those so I don't have a continual hole that I need to fill with churn.

We can focus on growing the top of the funnel.

But it all starts for us in that kind of marketplace environment, and things that may be more impactful in your world like an enterprise website are important for us because people want to know the company behind the product.

But it starts in the marketplace first. That's probably where they're going to learn about us first.

Grant: And you have multiple apps in the marketplace, not just one, correct?

Mark: Correct. Yeah.

Grant: Are those other apps core lines of business or products, or are they more like feeding towards the core product?

Mark: No, they're individual, standalone products.

I mean, they're better when they're using in combination, so if a customer is using two or three products in combination they're going to get more value.

But some people don't need that. Some people may be only interested in tracking time across a set of projects and they'll use one of our products.

If their requirement is more on the budgeting side, they may use the budgeting product.

But increasingly we're seeing customers use the products in combination because, the way they're integrated, it unlocks what we believe to be a higher level value proposition that increasingly senior people in the enterprise have.

Many enterprise providers follow this Land and Expand model, where you try to land at the customer site with a product solving a problem, and then expand additional users, additional products.

It's similar here, we just do it in a lower touch way or via one of our reselling partners who have a higher touch but still it's not quite as high touch as some classic enterprise selling organizations might consider.

Grant: And do you escalate those up over time? Do you end up with close relationships? How do you do those upsells? Is there ever a high touch?

Mark: Yeah. When we say high touch it's probably low touch from your perspective, but this is still enterprise software, right?

It's an enterprise solution, it's being bought by an enterprise, it's just lower touch than classic enterprise software would otherwise describe.

But what we do is we look for a number of signals in the product, these are both usage metrics in terms of how the product itself is being used.

We look at the number of seats that people have purchased. We also look at the size of the account or the company.

Those factors come together to indicate a bit of a customer score, and if the customer scores above a certain amount we'll try to get one of our teams to make a human contact with the team and begin a little bit more of a classic customer success relationship.

Can we help with onboarding? Can we help answer questions?

It's a higher touch environment, and we have, I would say, quite a few customers that fall into that bucket.

But it's a small portion of the 20 plus thousand customers who use us.

But a customer who may have 50 or 100 licenses, but they have a very large engineering organization, we will probably try to put a human team in touch with the account to see if there's anything that we can help with so that we could look for ways to expand.

Either through additional seats or with additional products.

So yes, we have a customer success function but it touches a small percentage of our overall customers.

Grant: And is it all inbound? You're only talking to folks who come and touch and use your products first, or is there any amount of, "Hey, we know that's a big Jira user, let's go try to get them to use our stuff and sell them on the value and why it should work for them"?

Mark: It is almost predominantly inbound.

That said, we do have relationships with 185, maybe 186 global solution partners.

Those companies will have more of a direct classic relationship with the enterprise itself.

Those companies, our partners maybe involved helping a client to go through a software selection project or maybe they're implementing Jira, they're implementing some Jira workflows, they're implementing a solution for a particular client and they will bring us along as part of that solution.

That is a more classic sales process, but in this case our partners are doing the selling.

We have a small team ourselves that support the partner, so we'll support the partner with enablement, with training, with some troubleshooting or product implementation, they do the work. Most of those partners are regional partners.

They may have a specialty in a particular geographic region, they may have a specialty in a particular vertical like maybe they do banking, and we're baked into a number of solutions that will go along for the ride.

So in terms of our own team, my team here, it tends to be more hands off where you either have the product itself doing the selling in a trial on our direct side, or if it's on our partner led side, the partner is doing a lot of the touch and we're supporting the partner.

Grant: And so just as partners, it's interesting, you have primarily a very channel focused sort of business, right?

Because in one side, the marketplace is a channel that is a primary channel, and the other side is these channel partners which sound like traditional value added resellers of ours or system integrators, SIs, and those folks are taking you into some of these other accounts.

Did those partners come inbound or did you, after you started to realize this is a valuable channel, start to create some amount of outbound effort to connect with those folks?

Mark: A little of both. I think from a portfolio perspective, we're looking to make sure that we've got broad coverage globally and also solution or vertical-centric areas that we want to make sure we've got good coverage.

And frankly, we look for some of the larger, more successful partners who are selling Atlassian, and specifically in our world, Jira based solutions and make sure that we've got a relationship with them.

Again, just like Atlassian, it's a healthy coexistence because we need them and they need us so we make a very high level of investment with our solutions partners because they're so instrumental to our business.

Grant: They end up with generally a channel, sometimes you're giving people between 15% and 30% of the sale and sometimes that's like the first year, sometimes it's more ongoing.

So is it like a similar model? You don't have to get into the exact details around the economics but similar kind of concepts in terms of how you structure those?

Mark: Yeah, yeah. Similar concepts. I think you're right, my enterprise software company is different than yours.

The allocation of my investments or expenses are different and for us these are our routes to market.

It's the marketplace, right? And there's rates, by the way, that we pay Atlassian, that they will withhold a percentage of the sale to cover their costs, so I'm paying.

You may have to pay employees, in some cases I'm paying a partner, I'm paying the Atlassian fee in order to get that route to market.

We have a high degree of repeatability in a higher volume environment.

The downside of that, back to the earlier part of the discussion, is in that environment how do you get personal with the customers?

How do you make sure that you're staying close to the people who are using the product so that we're evolving the product in a way that is as good as possible?

That's been an adjustment for me coming here. I don't have that kind of enterprise seller team that I can plug into to get those insights, so it's been good.

It's been a fun challenge, and I think I'm looking at it creatively because of my background.

But starving for those level of insights that you probably get more naturally because you're probably involved personally in some of your sales efforts, I'm guessing.

Grant: Yeah, yeah. I stay pretty connected to customers because it is how I understand what we're doing.

It's funny, the other thing, and you probably end up... Well, before the pandemic, maybe now again.

I find the other way to do this is just to be at conferences. We'll get a booth, we had Kubecon very recently and that's a big conference for us because we're so Kubernetes focused.

I was at the booth probably 90% of the time and super focused on-- everyone that walked by I wanted to talk to because to me, it's interesting, I think I was trying to explain this to the team.

It was like first conferences back, there's not that many folks there so everyone's talking to each other.

They haven't seen each other in person, sometimes ever.

So I was trying to express, "I need you all to turn facing outwards and talk to these people that are coming by."

Maybe I expressed it a bit too much, a target rich environment or something, but really it's like, "These are the people who's problems we're trying to solve, and so talk to them as much as you can, understand how they think about this problem."

I got a handful of core insights. I've been in this business for almost seven years and there was insights that I got around how different banks and different end customers think about this problem and approach this.

I was like, "Oh wow, that's different than I thought it was." So to your point, it's another way to really get in front of a ton of customers. It's like the customer fire hose, right?

Mark: Yeah, it's a great point and you know what? I hadn't thought of this, but regarding conferences and I share your perspective, while they can be physically grueling-

Grant: Oh gosh, so exhausting.

Mark: Who's there? You've got potential prospects walking around, you probably are booths away from your competitors, people who are selling against you who may have a creative way of messaging the same kind of thing.

There's stuff to learn from people who may buy from you, who will never buy from you, who you're competing with.

You've got analysts and media walking around who around spending their day being briefed with your competitors and who are talking with your customers.

There's tons of insights walking around, you just have to rally and get plugged into it.

I haven't been to a conference post this COVID world.

Atlassian has a very large conference that was virtual last year. We will go to the next one, supposedly at this point will be in person and we will be there, we will be a sponsor.

I will go, I will be there to help setup the booth and I will break it down. There's so many reasons to be there.

I agree with you, in our world you've got to pickup those insights because it's like inches add up.

Grant: Yeah, for sure. Breaking down the booth might be... Sometimes I'm like, "I can't. I need to lay down for a minute."

Mark: I didn't say I was going to break it down, I said I'd be there through the breakdown.

Grant: Yeah, I get you. I think the marketplace is really interesting because, as enterprise software companies get bigger and bigger, Atlassian is enormous, Datadog, Salesforce obviously, but GitHub, GitLab, et cetera, as they become so big and they have so much reach, one, they can't do everything.

Two, they do start to open these marketplaces and integrations so that ability to reach their customers quickly, it reminds me of when Facebook first launched the platform, the Facebook platform at F8.

The days after that, it was easier for a consumer application to get a million users than it had been ever before.

The same thing is probably true from an enterprise software perspective where if you can get into these marketplaces and find an interesting way, something that's compelling for the end users of that product, you're going to reach a number of users far faster than you ever would've prior.

So thinking about it as both like a lead generation, if you are more of a top down business, or truly being able to run a true product led growth business out of it where you start with free trials and then folks have to pay to keep going, it's a really interesting sort of approach to the business.

Mark: I agree, and I think so much of our success is tied to Atlassian's success, right?

And it's a great platform, there's great people leading the company, their culture is such that it works really well with the marketplace itself.

Vendors and people leading solution teams like me trust that Atlassian's going to evolve in a way that's good for them and us at the same time.

Not all companies are going to do that. I think Atlassian has shown the value around a marketplace, so I think to your point, there's a lot of other companies who have and will launch marketplaces.

They're not all going to be built and operated the same way, and what's put in motion on day one may evolve in a way that is better and better for a particular vendor or not.

You've got to understand that dynamic, because so much of our world relies on some of those pieces that are in place. How the marketplace operates, how we have relationships there, and as companies ponder launching into a different marketplace, trying to figure out what those characteristics are, trusting that the vendor behind the marketplace is going to do the right thing.

Does the vendor have a history of looking at top selling partners and then plugging that whole in their product?

If you're a vendor in one of these marketplaces, and now you suddenly see the marketplace host starting to implement all of these features that are behind your business, not only does that present risk to a particular vendor but now you've got everybody else saying, "That could happen to me."

So I think really the vendor host or the marketplace host themselves really has to think through the dynamics that they want to create in their ecosystem, where they're going to leave off and let their partners pick up.

Because the whole product is really what end customers like the enterprise are using, and the marketplace host has to think about that through that lens.

I think Atlassian has done a great job and obviously spawned a lot of successful businesses.

Grant: Yeah, they definitely have. I don't know if they've published any stats recently, but years ago when they first published it was like $100 million have been transacted through the Amazon Marketplace.

It was not that long after it had been launched, it was a couple years afterwards.

So yeah, super, super impressive. What other kind of frameworks or insights have you evolved from your career that you think could be interesting to the audience?

Mark: Well, the big one really for me was this whole NIHITO thing, Nothing Interesting Happens In The Office.

As you can probably tell at this point in our discussion, so much of the decisions that I make now are really influenced by getting people out of the building.

Grant: Yeah. I think it's a core theme of this talk, I think it's been really, really insightful and helpful.

Mark: Yeah, hopefully it helps other people.

The other little framework that some of my teams make fun of me for saying is, "Just do something over a hot coffee."

And then we started calling them Hot Coffee Sprints. Meaning, do something while your coffee is hot, by the time the coffee is no longer warm, maybe you've worked on something too long.

We introduced that, and some of the people that were around when we figured this thing, I'm honored to still have them on my team and we still work together.

So every once in a while they'll laugh at that, but it was in response to my observation that sometimes people get hung up on trying to figure out everything.

I would say, "Listen, why don't you just draft something?"

Like if it was a particular piece of collateral or marketing campaign.

I remember doing this with somebody who was doing some corporate development research, and they're like, "Well, it's going to take five days to do that."

I said, "Okay, it may take five days to do it entirely, but do we even know we should spend five days? Why don't you spend 20 minutes on it and just get a quick sense for whether or not we should invest and do more work on that particular thing? Why don't you work on that, and when your coffee is too cold to drink, move on. At that point you probably know enough to know whether or not we should keep going on something."

So I still break that out every once in a while, where it looks like somebody's getting hung up, mired in the details and you just want to pull somebody back and say, "Just give me a sense, should we continue doing something or not?"

Or take a customer email, "I don't need you doing it all day. Do it in 20 minutes, let's see what it looks like, we'll start there."

Grant: Yeah. One of my first roles as more of an executive, I still was being a little bit more too thoughtful and our CEO, it was a small company, it was like a 20 person company and I was the CMO... My mantra became, "Think less, do more."

And it really became a core mantra over time for me. You can overthink things and I think if you enjoy the debate and the analysis and the back and forth and trying to really... Sometimes you just need to ship stuff and sometimes you need to be like, "No, I'm done. Let's put it out there, let's see what happens."

There's a quality threshold that I think things need to pass and you shouldn't maybe allow that, but you can be a little bit embarrassed or a little bit like, "We wanted to do more, we forgot to do that. That's okay."

But yeah, get it done over a hot coffee. While your coffee is still hot, that's how long you can work on this.

Mark: Yeah. Or you may not need to finish it, but just take a quick pass at it.

Don't overthink it. Now, I realize that runs contrary to me saying, "Don't ship too fast. Make sure you have the customer's perspective."

But I think over time you get a sense for what tool or framework to break out, and where a team member may be getting stuck.

I use it myself, by the way, because I look at my never ending list of things that I need to work on and while my training as a product manager to sometimes work on the lesser known things, the more risky projects, the things that you really need to understand more quickly because they're so paramount to what else is happening, starting on some of those gnarly problems.

It's human nature to want to check things off your list and sometimes you're picking on the easy things, and you can't do that because in our jobs you've got to solve the big gnarly things and pave the way for people.

So sometimes I'll look at the bottom of my list, which tends to be the last things I want to deal with and I'll start on those.

I'll be like, "All right, cup of hot coffee, I'm going to attack this. Let's get a position on this and figure out how much more time is needed."

Grant: Yeah. Sometimes it's just move the ball out on the field a little bit, right? Get a little bit more progress, make a difference.

Don't just think about it, don't just put it off, just go and see if you can tackle it.

Mark: Yes, exactly. So do it over coffee.

Grant: I love it. Mark, thank you so much. This has been a real pleasure, to have you on and to get your insights here so I really appreciate all your time.

Mark: Grant, my pleasure. Really appreciate you building this resource for the industry.

Content has been really helpful to me and hopefully the discussion helps other people too.

Grant: Amazing. Thank you so much.